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My Teen Won’t Do Homework. How Can I Fix This?

Meet Jake, a 15-year-old ninth grader, who rarely, if ever, does his homework. Jake’s teachers report that he is inconsistent. He enjoys learning about topics that interest him but seems unfocused during class and fails to complete necessary schoolwork, both in class and at home. Although his grades are suffering, Jake makes no effort to improve his circumstances. His frustrated parents find that their only recourse is nagging and con­stant supervision.

Sound familiar? When a teen won’t do homework, we call this behavior work inhibition. Here are some common characteris­tics of work inhibited students:

  • Disorganization
  • Lack of follow-through
  • Inability to work indepen­dently; more likely to do work when a teacher or par­ent hovers close by
  • Lack of focus
  • Avoidance of work
  • Lack of passion about school, despite ability and intelligence
  • Negative attitude; self-conscious and easily discouraged

How can a parent help when a teen refuses to do school homework? First, try to uncover the root of the problem and then devise solutions based on that reason.

3 Reasons Why Teens Don’t Complete Homework and What to Do:

1. Missing skills

The most common rea­son for lack of motivation is a gap in skills. Unplanned absences or a heavy extracurricular load can contribute to skill gaps, even in otherwise bright teens. If you suspect a skill gap, act quickly to have your teen assessed. Your school guidance counselor can recommend the right resources.

2. Poor habits

Poor work habits can also contribute to work inhibition. Try to focus on a work system rather than the work itself with your teen. Set small goals to­gether and teach your teen to set small goals for him or herself. Try to take frequent notice of your teen’s effort and progress.

3. Lack of confidence

Often, students who are work inhibited fear being wrong and won’t ask questions when they need help. Teach your teen that everyone makes mistakes. Help them see these mistakes as another opportunity for learning.

What Parents Can Do to Promote Self-Sufficiency

1. Offer limited help with homework

Parents can offer limited help with homework. Try to avoid micromanaging the process. When you micromanage, the mes­sage you send is that your teen will fail if you aren’t involved. When you show confidence in your teen’s ability to complete the task with­out you, your teen’s motivation and self-esteem will increase.

3. Resist lecturing

Ask your teen for ways you can help, but don’t lec­ture. Lectures about poor work habits and constant reminders about the negative consequences of unfinished homework can cre­ate more dependency.

3. Empower your teenager

Chores are a great way to empower teens. Delegating demonstrates your confidence in their ability. Try assigning tasks related to an area of interest. If your teen en­joys trying new foods, delegate the preparation and cooking of dinner one night each week.

4. Focus on strengths

Focus on strengths rath­er than pointing out your teen’s faults. When your teen succeeds, give genuine, specific praise. When you need to discuss expectations or problems use a matter-of-fact tone instead of an emotional tone.

Once you and your teen agree on the underlying problem, then the two of you can develop a plan to help create a self-sufficient student.

Martina McIsaac is executive director of Huntington Learning Centers.

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